Benzene Lawsuit Claims Shell Oil, BP to Blame for Woman’s Leukemia Death

A <"">benzene lawsuit alleges an Illinois woman developed leukemia and died as a result of exposure to the toxic chemical. The lawsuit, filed by the family of Debra Ochs, names Shell Oil Company and BP Products North America Inc. as defendants.

According to the Ochs family lawsuit, which was filed last month in Madison County Circuit Court, Debra worked in Roxana as a teacher from 1994 through 2004. Both BP and Shell operate refineries in the area that processed and used benzene and benzene-containing pollutants, the lawsuit claims.

The complaint claims Debra’s exposure to benzene caused her to be diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia (also known as acute myeloid leukemia) in 2003. She died in 2008, and was survived by her husband and a daughter.

The <"">benzene lawsuit blames Shell and BP for Debra’s wrongful death, and accuses the oil companies of negligence, saying they knowingly released benzene into the air and ground water. The suit asks more than $150,000 in damages to pay for medical expenses, lost income and court costs.

Benzene is a colorless liquid with a sweet odor. It evaporates into the air very quickly and dissolves slightly in water. Several organizations, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the U.S. National Toxicology Program, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) all recognize benzene as a cancer-causing chemical.

By far, people working in industries where benzene is used or made are subjected to the highest benzene exposure. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as many as 238,000 people may be occupationally exposed to benzene in the U.S. These industries include benzene production (petrochemicals, petroleum refining, and coke and coal chemical manufacturing), rubber tire manufacturing, and storage or transport of benzene and petroleum products containing benzene. Other workers who may be exposed to benzene include coke oven workers in the steel industry, printers, rubber workers, shoe makers, laboratory technicians, firefighters, and gas station employees.

The IARC, part of the World Health Organization (WHO), classifies benzene as a “known human carcinogen”, with “sufficient” evidence that benzene causes acute myeloid leukemia. The evidence for acute lymphocytic leukemia, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma is designated as “limited”.

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